Monday, November 26, 2012

Lifting for Cyclists

Image credit: Top Bicep Workouts
I am a strong advocate for weight training to support cycling. Even modest weight training builds muscle, strengthens bones, and helps to build core strength — important because cycling does not do these things. If done properly, it is safe and will help riders avoid injury, rather than risking a chance of it.
Hitting the gym can be a foreign experience to cyclists, but how you lift weights in just your first week of strength training can lead to better results. In a study of rest intervals between exercise sets, researchers found that limiting breaks to 60 seconds during the first week of weight training boosted study participants' hormonal response to the exercise. —Bicycling Magazine
Strength training may (or may not) be important for professionals; but for recreational cyclists all you need are some inexpensive free weights or a gym membership. The single most important advice for everyone doing weight training is to focus on form, rather than amount of weight lifted. For this reason, you will need some kind of instruction.

There are lots of training programs for cyclists, and if you are going to cycle competitively, they may be useful. As cited above, there is a debate amongst professionals about cycling training and workouts. From this debate, you'll find many complicated strength training routines on line and in various expensive looking programs. It seems unlikely that any recreational cyclist will need that level of complexity. So instead, find a reliable source and stick with it, so long as it works for you.

I get my training advice from Scooby's Workshop. A wonderful, free resource with video instructions on nearly every weight training exercise a new weightlifter will need.

Generally, here is a list of tips I've gathered over the years:

  1. Focus on Form: Focusing on form will help you get the most out of the workout and reduce the chance of injury.
  2. Lower the Weight: Lower weights with high repetition is generally safer than higher weight with low repetition.
  3. Avoid Real Pain: Listen to your body: not all pain is gain. Pain in joints, pain which is sharp or sudden, pain in the lower back are all bad. The only pain which is beneficial is the almost-pleasant muscular soreness you can get after any energetic activity.
  4. Stop Before Injury: So, if an exercise feels odd, it could injure you. Stop, check your form, and lower the weight. Or skip that exercise altogether (you may not be ready of it, or it may simply not be for you — we're not all the same!).
  5. Swinging Causes Injury: Avoid exercises that have you swinging heavy weights: this could lead to injury.
  6. Complex Motion Causes Injury: Avoid exercises that have you moving your body in more than one plane at a time (for the same reason).
  7. Keep Mentally Fit: Don't compare yourself to others (unless doing so inspires you). You don't know how long they've been training, or how they are training.
  8. Be Regular: If you train diligently (at least three times per week), you will see results. Be patient.
  9. Be Patient: Results gained over a long period are more likely to be permanent than those gained quickly.
  10. Make Life Changes: So — like an improved diet and cycling — make weight training part of your weekly routine.
  11. Be Routine: Your workout should last about an hour for cycling purposes, but do more if you feel comfortable.
  12. Be Committed: Don't chat, fiddle with your iPhone, gawk at the muscle men (much), or nap during your workout. Get in the gym and get it over with. You should be moving nearly constantly during your workout.
  13. Develop your Core: Ripped abs come from diet and aerobics. A strong core comes from strength training. Do both, but don't expect that six-pack until you get your diet under control.
  14. Body Weight: Exercises that use your body weight (pull-ups, chin-ups, push-ups, hand stands and the like) are excellent strength training exercises that can ultimately be done nearly anywhere without too much special equipment.
  15. Vary your Program: Sticking with training does not mean sticking with a routine until it becomes so dull your stop doing it. Additionally, your muscles will respond to changes in exercise and intensity.
But most importantly, enjoy the workout. If you find it too hard, too dull, or too confusing, try something new. And keep safe at the gym, so weight training will support rather than impede hours on the road!

Your, Bear

Friday, November 9, 2012

Core Training for Cyclists

Image Source: Project Put that Cookie Down Now!
"Core" is a fancy way of saying "abdominal." (The Wikipedia article on "core training" redirects to "abdominal exercises.") As Scooby says:
Strengthening the abdominals is important for basic health to keep you injury free. Strong abs help stabilize the spine and keep you from injuring your back. Strong abs are important in virtually every sport, from golfing to running.
We cyclists may think that we are excluded. After all, the power behind the pedal stroke is generated in the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, and calf muscles. Isn't it? The answer, I think is partially yes and partially no. The immediate power you get comes from your legs, but what's behind the legs? Supporting them is your torso. The torso is the wall against which all the other muscles push to generate power.

So if the torso is weak, the wall is going to crumble before the ride is over:
YOUR BULGING QUADS AND RAZOR-CUT CALVES are the envy of your pack, and you start every ride strong. As the ride progresses, though, your hips seesaw in the saddle, your lower back aches, and you slow in corners. The problem? Your core cries uncle long before your legs wear out. Although a cyclist's legs provide the most tangible source of power, the abs and lower back are the vital foundation from which all movement, including the pedal stroke, stems. (Bicycling Magazine, links in the original.)
So, how do you build core strength? These are some tips that I've used and noticed a marked improvement in my core strength and riding ability:

First, riding itself will help, but is not likely to be enough to keep you strong on long rides. In concert with these other suggestions, core strength will improve over time.

Second, cross train. Mixing in another sport — anything from walking or swimming to weight training or tennis will help develop different sets of muscles, skills, reactions, etc. which can only help strengthen your core.

Corollary: Stand at your work desk instead of sitting (See New York Time article "Is Sitting a Lethal Activity").

Third, incorporate abdominal training into your routine. I use the 15 minute "rotisserie" routine developed by Scooby three days a week, and the result have been tremendous (see video). Scooby has a comprehensive list of abdominal exercises on his site.

Fourth, improve your eating habits. I'm loth to say "diet" because that implies a short-term solution. I have actively improved my eating habits and plan to keep my new habits for the rest of my life. Just making smart choices may be enough to reduce fat and increase muscle. A stricter diet may be required if your goal is to race, but for recreational cyclist, start with Scooby's "simple substitution" method to improve your diet. But, remember that cyclists have specific nutritional needs before, during, and after rides.

Fifth, actively improve your posture, while riding, sitting, or standing.

I hope these tips help. Please let me know what works for you!

your Bear